Category Archives: Free-to-play

A purchase makes a promise

I will never buy a Ps Mini again. I was recently exploring the interface of my Ps Vita, looking for a novel diversion to buy while waiting for insomnia to dissipate. After browsing through the catalog of Ps1 games I thought, “Hey, I’ve never bought a Mini before. They’re always mentioning them in the list of new releases on Podcast Beyond. Maybe I ought to try one out.”

I found one with an intriguing name and icon, Floating Cloud God Saves the Pilgrims. I clicked the icon and was disappointed with the amount of information the Vita gave to help me make a purchase. Here I was, looking for an excuse to open my wallet and there was no video, no screenshots, no Metacritic, no clear explanation of genre.

Continue reading A purchase makes a promise

Why the OFT’s 8 principles for in-game purchases are great for game developers

On Thursday, the UK’s Office of Fair Trade released its Children’s Online Games report and consultation. The report outlines 8 principles for games targeted at children that contain in-game purchases. The “report outlines the main issues we identified through our investigation and our proposed remedy: to produce a set of industry-wide Principles to make clear the OFT’s views on businesses’ obligations under consumer protection law and what they should do to avoid being the subject of targeted enforcement action.”

No doubt inspired by stories like the 8 year old girl who spent $1,400 inside of Smurfs for iPad, the report is one I have heard concerns about when talking to clients over the past few months. I am no lawyer, and this post in no way should be taken as legal advice, but my personal interpretation is that these 8 principles are largely great for game developers.

Continue reading Why the OFT’s 8 principles for in-game purchases are great for game developers

Making purchases present

Over the past year and a half as a monetization design consultant, one of my core tenets is to make purchasing present. Perhaps the biggest missteps I see in games with IAP is that the developer appears like they are doing everything possible to obscure the fact that a player can spend money within the game. When I get in front of audiences at GDC and other events, I coach that IAP are like banner ads: one must create hundreds if not thousands of impressions of the ability to spend money in order to generate a single purchase.

I am not talking about bombarding the player with frequent blocking modal dialogs. This  tactic is likely to frustrate a player and cause him to quit your game permanently for another. An excellent example I point to in making purchasing present is Bejeweled Blitz.

If I were to open up Bejeweled Blitz and play 10 matches of the game, I would see the Add Coins button 20 times within that session. It is not blocking my progress or making a nuisance of itself. But simply by playing the game and following the path of least resistance, I see the ability to spend money regularly. Purchasing is present.
Continue reading Making purchases present

Know when to fold ’em: how to quit your live, free-to-play game

Recently, I listened to an episode of Freakanomics Radio called The Upside of Quitting which discusses why it is so hard to quit and how it can be extremely valuable to do so. It made me reflect upon a relatively new issue facing modern game developers: how do you know it is time to quit working on your live game?

In a landscape including free-to-play, mobile, Steam, Ouya, Kickstarter, Desura, alpha funding, etc, there are more ways than ever to release a game and continually improve it. And there are cases, such as the story of Wild Ones’ ascension to become Playdom’s top performing game, which show it is possible to grow your audience through strong game design. But by and large game development is a career of passion, and when it is not just A game but YOUR game out there in the world, it can be impossible to ignore your sunk costs and objectively decide whether or not to continue working on your game.
Continue reading Know when to fold ’em: how to quit your live, free-to-play game

Game Design is Business Design – GDC 2013 Edition

I presented this latest version of my game monetization lecture – Game Design is Business Design – at the 2013 Game Developer’s Conference as part of the Free to Play Design and Business Summit. In the talk, I mention some tools and templates in the lecture that you can find at the following links:

Continue reading Game Design is Business Design – GDC 2013 Edition

Punch Quest – optimizing ui flow for in-game purchases

I’m a little late to the party, but I recently discovered the exceptional iOS game Punch Quest and was immediately hooked. This beautifully crafted mash up of Jetpack Joyride and Streets of Rage (or Final Fight if you were more SNES than Genesis) transfixed me immediately. I was addicted to the quick rounds of pick up and play simplicity, the explosions of Punchos upon completing a quest and the joy of punching a cyclops right in the eye.


Punch Quest made headlines not only for it’s high Metacritic rating, but unfortunately for its failure with the freemium model and unorthodox switch from free to paid. I only discovered the game after it started charging $0.99 and felt that the purchase was completely justified. I enjoyed playing so much that I spent additional dollars on in-app purchases (IAP). Importantly, Punch Quest fulfilled one of the most important criteria for a successful freemium game: as a player, I had more fun as a result of spending money on IAP.
Continue reading Punch Quest – optimizing ui flow for in-game purchases

5 UI/UX tricks behind CSR Racing’s $12 million month

Back in August, Natural Motion made big headlines when it was reported that their hit game, CSR Racing, had surpassed $12 million in monthly revenue. The drag racer spent most of the month of July dominating the iOS top grossing chart and enjoys a position in the top 25 on both iPhone and iPad today. Based on my model for iPhone/iPad revenue, I estimate that CSR Racing has generated a little over $5 million in worldwide sales in the past 30 days.

CSR is a fantastic, polished and fun experience, the essential foundation of developing a top grossing game. But I wanted to take a look at 5 UI/UX tricks the game utilizes to help drive its exceptional revenue.

Strong top of the funnel
When designing a freemium game, you are constantly considering “the funnel”. How many players are downloading your game each day? How many of those players even open it up? How many play for more than one day? How many spend money?
Continue reading 5 UI/UX tricks behind CSR Racing’s $12 million month

The Simpsons Tapped Out: Why EA doesn’t need new ip

In last Tuesday’s quarterly earnings report, EA touted the success of the freemium Simpson’s Tapped Out for iOS as one of the stand out successes of the past few months. EA’s Frank Gibeau was quoted as saying “another breakout hit in the fiscal quarter was The Simpsons: Tapped Out, a free-to-play mobile title which launched in August and was the #1 grossing game on iOS for most of the last 4 weeks” (via Games Industry International). 

Just how successful was the title? Using the numbers for top grossing iOS titles I reverse engineered from Supercell’s recent success, I estimate Tapped Out has generated $29.6 million in sales for EA. $20.7 million after Apple takes its cut. This represents 6.6% of EA’s reported $314 million in digital revenue for the quarter.
Continue reading The Simpsons Tapped Out: Why EA doesn’t need new ip

How much does the #1 grossing iOS app make in a day? $199k (I think)

Having a #1 grossing app on the iPhone or iPad is the dream of every game developer who ever downloaded a copy of xCode. Few games reach this lucrative goal and information on the top spot’s true value is a closely guarded secret. Even if you are lucky enough to achieve the #2 spot on the chart, there is no ceiling on what the #1 spot could possibly be worth.

My best guess? In the United States, an average day in the top grossing position for the iPhone means $199,245 in gross revenue. iPad $55,789. After Apple takes its cut, this is about $139.5k and $39.1k respectively.

How did I, who has never personally sold a game on the iOS store come to this conclusion? Follow me on an assumption laden journey as I show how I arrived at these figures.
Continue reading How much does the #1 grossing iOS app make in a day? $199k (I think)

The math of money in freemium

Last month I was struck by Going broke with success, the story of financial disaster for indie devs Mikengreg, the developers behind well regarded iPad app Gasketball. As told by the Penny Arcade Report, it is a heartbreaking story of two passionate devs dedicating two years to a project only to get completely wiped out financially despite hitting the #2 position on the iOS free charts in the US and #1 in 6 countries. Two years, a fun, polished, unique multiplayer game with a great trailer and yet Mikengreg are homeless because Gasketball failed to convert enough players to payers.

I believe that Gasketball’s struggles can teach game developers considering freemium three important lessons:

  • Big funnels drive big profits
  • Don’t cap a player’s ability to spend
  • Control your scope

After spending so much time speaking publicly about free to play game design, I wanted to write about the math behind doing a freemium game. I wanted to highlight these three key lessons, shedding light on the 2% conversion rate the developers were counting on.
Continue reading The math of money in freemium